So they could put this godforsaken nightmare behind them and live happily ever after.
That shit doesn’t exist except for rare occasions and fucking fairy tales.
Austin’s words were still spooling through her head when Doc Knight came in to check on her. After setting up her first prenatal appointment, he escorted her out the back door—the same one Austin had left—and walked her to her truck. Paige thanked him again, then drove home.
As she passed Austin’s place, she slowed and craned her neck, looking to see if he was sitting on the back porch. He wasn’t. But that didn’t stop the deluge of the memories they’d shared inside those walls from crushing her all over again.
Paige cried herself to sleep that night.
The next morning, she climbed out of bed and zombied through her normal routine—throw up, brush teeth, take a shower. Though she wanted nothing more than to climb back into bed, drag the covers over her head, and sleep, Paige dressed by rote, then padded into her grandpa’s room.
He’d asked her to bring his old pocket transistor radio to him today. To say the man had not embraced the digital age was an understatement.
Searching through the drawers of his desk, Paige found an old, yellowed envelope. She carefully opened the deteriorated paper and pulled out a couple pages of an antique court document. Plopping down on the bed, she began to read it. Her eyes grew wide, her heart rate tripled, and her stomach swirled. Scrubbing a hand down her face, she carefully folded the papers and slid them back into their fragile holder before tucking them into her purse.
“Today is not going to be a fun visit,” she muttered before continuing her search.
Unable to find the device, she finally gave up. After making the phone call she’d been dreading, Paige climbed into her truck and pulled from the driveway. As she started to pass the Carson ranch, she slowed, searching the grounds and praying to catch a glimpse of Austin. He wasn’t anywhere. Tamping down her disappointment and tears, she headed to Denton.
When she entered her grandpa’s room, he was sitting in a chair, watching TV. He glanced over and started to smile, then scowled. “You look like shit. What’s wrong?”
“The list is long, and before you ask, no. I’m not okay,” she announced, wiping a tear from her cheeks.
“What’s wrong, Paige? Come over here, sit down, and talk to me.”
Her legs felt like cement as she crossed the room and sat down on his bed. Then dragged in a deep breath. “I fired Johnny yesterday.”
His eyes nearly bulged out of his head before anger crawled across this face. “What the hell’d you go and do that for?”
“Because he would have punched me in the face if Doc Knight hadn’t knocked him out.”
The old man gasped. “I’m not following you, sweetheart. Start at the beginning.”
Omitting every detail attached to Austin, Paige told him all the lies Johnny had told, all the manipulation and deceit he’d orchestrated, and finally how he’d asked her to marry him in front of the whole town.
“I’d even told him the day before that I would never marry him. But he was so determined to own your land, he wouldn’t listen.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t want to marry him?”
“I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me,” she confessed as she reached into her purse and pulled out the faded envelope.
When her grandpa realized what she was holding, he paled.
“Why did you lie to me, lie to everyone and claim that the Carsons stole your land?”
He didn’t answer, simply pressed his lips together in a thin, tight line.
“Why are you still maintaining the lie and keeping a pointless feud alive with the Carsons in this day and age?”
“I-I don’t know,” he finally whispered.
“Zebulon Nelson bet and lost those fifty acres to Howard Carson, fair and square, according to the judge who signed these papers, in a drunken poker game, back in the damn eighteen-hundreds.” Paige shook the envelope and scowled.
“My grandpappy always said that Howard Carson had bought off that judge.”
“Was there ever any proof?”
“I don’t know, but my grandpappy wasn’t a liar.”
“No, I’m sure he wasn’t. I’m sure he was simply passing down the one Zebulon started after that poker game because he was too embarrassed about what he’d done. So in order to save face and polish up his tarnished pride, he made up the ridiculous accusation about the Carsons. What I want to know is why has the lie been allowed to stay alive all this time?”
“I was raised to hate ’em, just like they was raised to hate me.”
“Oh, so that makes it okay?” she asked exasperatedly. “Is your pride so delicate and fragile that you have to carry this much hate in your heart toward someone who’s never wronged you?”
“If you’re only here to argue with me, then leave…get out.”
“No, I came here to try and make you open your eyes. To give you the chance to restore the Nelson name. To do the right thing and to be the man I’ve always thought you were…honest, brave and loving, and end this stupid, hurtful feud.”
“Why? So you can go chasing after that…Austin fellow?”
“No, because he’s the father of your great-grandchild.”
The old man’s mouth fell open as he slowly rocked his head back and closed his eyes.
“Don’t worry. I won’t stay where I’m not welcome. I need a few days to make arrangements, get you home from the hospital, then I’ll be on my way.”
He jerked his head up and scowled. “What do you mean, be on your way? Are you telling me that pecker-headed son of a bitch knocked you up and didn’t offer to marry you?”
“I haven’t told Austin yet.”
“No wonder he hasn’t put a ring on your finger.”